Thursday, July 20, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I'll admit, I didn't want to see any of the Planet of the Apes films at first. They never managed to interest me.

However, everyone started to praise War for the Planet of the Apes the moment the first preview screening ended. So I decided to look at the first 2 films: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, & Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Both films were absolutely amazing sci-fi epics.

At that point, I was sold on seeing this film. And it definitely did not disappoint one bit.

The film focuses once again on Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), who is leading a clan of intelligent apes in the woods in California. The clan is attacked by a military faction named Alpha-Omega, who has some apes in its service who were against Caesar & supported Koba (played by Toby Kebbell). Some Alpha-Omega members are captured by Caesar. Caesar releases them as a peace offering to the humans, & plans to relicate across the desert to stop the fighting. However, before that can be done, Colonel McCullough (played by Woody Harrelson), attacks the clan by himself. Enraged, Caesar, along with Maurice (played by Karin Konoval), Luca (played by Michael Adamthwaite), & Rocket (played by Terry Notary), leave to exact revenge on Colonel McCullough, who is at "the border."

Along the way, after killing a man who tried to shoot them, the apes encounter a young girl (played by Amiah Miller) who happens to be the man's daughter. The girl is mute, having suffered that fate due to the Simian Flu. Maurice names her Nova. Towards the border, they meet Bad Ape (played by Steve Zahn), a former ape at the Sierra Zoo who has obvious psychological damage due to bad treatment from humans. He has knowledge of "the border", stating that it was a "human zoo", which means a quarantine facility. The facility was originally a weapons depot, & is now a base for Alpha-Omega.

The Colonel reveals his bloodthirsty ways of dealing with people who carry the mutated Simian Flu, much to the horror of the apes, & will stop at nothing to kill the apes. Caesar has to set free the apes at any cost, & must rethink his morals & look at what he's become, fearing he's turned into Koba.

The cast is spectacular. Andy Serkis gives an Oscar-worthy performance, & if the Academy has a brain, they will nominate Serkis, which would be a surprise considering the Academy has gone against nominating actors in motion-capture roles. Woody Harrelson also gives a spectacular performance, making you despise him every moment he's on the screen.

Matt Reeves's direction is excellent. Having previously directed the excellent found-footage sci-fi film Cloverfield, the amazing horror remake Let Me In, along with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Reeves has directed his best film yet, & his excellent direction is especially shown off in the amazing action sequences that are the best of the year.

The screenplay by Matt Reeves & Mark Bomback is amazing. Creating an atmosphere of dread, sacrifice, & survival, Reeves & Bomback make the story extremely engaging, & make you support the apes & go against humans who are so cruel. They also make the characters so interesting & 3-dimensional, & they also put some amazing political, theological, & social allegories in the story as well.

The cinematography by Michael Seresin is excellent, putting you right into the action at every moment.

The editing by William Hoy & Stan Salfas is excellent. It doesn't use a lot of the frenetic cuts seen a lot in action films these days. Hoy & Salfas don't let any scenes go too quickly without us taking the scene in, & there are barely any continuity errors.

The sound editing & sound mixing are both amazing. Like the cinematography, they both make you feel like you're right in the middle of the action.

The visual effects are an absolute treasure. The motion capture used by the actors make the apes look so lifelike it's so startling.

And Michael Giacchino's score is absolutely beautiful. This score is definitely the best of his career, & the song Apes Together Strong from the score is especially beautiful, with the quiet sounds of the piano & other instruments really tugging at the heartstrings.

This is one of the 5 best films of the year so far. It's an absolutely emotional conclusion to an amazing trilogy, & deserves to be hailed as one of the best conclusions to a trilogy of all time.

War for the Planet of the Apes was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 140 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence & action, thematic elements & some disturbing images.

The House

★★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Will Ferrell is a comedic legend. Amy Poehler is nearing that status. And Jason Mantzoukas could be one. Put them together & you have the basis for a comedic riot.

And that's certainly what The House is: a comedic riot that is the funniest film of the year so far.

The film focuses on Scott (played by Will Ferrell) & Kate (played by Amy Poehler) Johansen, a couple in the idyllic small town of Fox Meadow. Their daughter, Alex (played by Ryan Simpkins), is on her way to college at Bucknell University as the recipient of the annual town scholarship. However, city councilman Bob Schaeffer (played by Nick Kroll) announces that he must revoke the scholarship in order to pay for a new, town superpool. Scott & Kate are absolutely devastated. Not only is their daughter's scholarship revoked, but they don't have any money whatsoever put towards college.

Enter Frank Theodorakis (played by Jason Mantzoukas), a friend of Scott & Kate, whose wife, Raina (played by Michaela Watkins) is about to divorce him due to his gambling problem. Scott, Kate, & Frank decide to go to Las Vegas to win money for Alex to go to college, but they lose their money, & accept that the house will always win.

Frank then has an amazing idea: to start their own underground casino at his house. At first, Scott & Kate are reluctant, but they warm up to it after Frank tells them that Alex will end up being a prostitute if she doesn't go to college. And so they start the casino. They get their friends in on it & it's a big success. But things start to go awry, & all hell breaks loose.

The cast is hilarious. Ferrell gives his best comedic performance since The Other Guys. Poehler gives her best comedic performance yet. And Mantzoukas gives an excellent breakout performance.

Andrew Jay Cohen's direction is solid. There are some faults that are common with a directorial debut, especially a comedy, but it still works out good.

The screenplay by Andrew Jay Cohen & Brendan O'Brien is brilliant. Having previously co-wrote the excellent comedy Neighbors, Cohen & O'Brien build off of an interesting premise into a non-stop laugh riot, filled with some amazing mean-spirited humor.

And this has the best use of the song Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3 since The Sopranos.

Is it a masterpiece? No. There are definitely a couple rough spots. But did it make me laugh a lot? It certainly did.

The House was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Sunday, July 16, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 88 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence & brief nudity.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Big Sick

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I think we can all agree that a vast majority of romance films, especially romantic comedies, in recent memory have been bad. They're all so predictable, using the same plotline over & over again. Those cliches has been overused so much.

However, every once in a while, we get a romance film that defies these cliches, & becomes a truly great romance film, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before MidnightAll the Real Girls, & (500) Days of Summer.

Thankfully, The Big Sick falls in the latter category. Loosely based on the true story of the film's writers, Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon, the film focuses mainly on Kumail (played by Kumail Nanjiani), a struggling Pakistani-American standup comedian in Chicago also working as a part-time Uber driver. His Muslim family, namely his mother, Sharmeen (played by Zenobia Shroff) & his father, Azmat (played by Anupam Kher) have been trying to set Kumail up in an arranged marriage, much to Kumail's chagrin.

At one of his shows, Kumail is "heckled" by Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). After at first agreeing not to date again after having a one-night stand, they end up beginning to date. Kumail fears having to tell his family he is dating a Caucasian woman, knowing they would very much likely disown him. But after Emily finds a cigar box of pictures of women Kumail's parents tried to set him up with, Kumail tells Emily that he doesn't think they'll end up together in the end. Heartbroken by this, Emily breaks up with Kumail.

A few weeks later, Kumail gets a call from a friend of Emily's. Emily was sent to the hospital, & Kumail must go there. When he arrives, Kumail is told that Emily must be placed in a medically induced coma, as she has an extremely serious lung infection. After signing off on it, Kumail contacts Emily's parents, Beth (played by Holly Hunter) & Terry (played by Ray Romano). While Beth is cold towards Kumail, Terry tries to be civil towards him. Eventually, the three begin to bond, as Emily's situation gets worse, & as Kumail reconsiders his outlook on life, love, & religion.

The cast is excellent. Kumail Nanjiani gives an excellent performance. Zoe Kazan lights up the screen every time we see her. Holly Hunter gives her best performance in years, & Ray Romano gives his best performance yet.

Michael Showalter's direction is superb. I'm honestly surprised at his directing abilities, mainly because the only other thing I know Showalter from is from the hilarious comedy Wet Hot American Summer, which is completely different from this on a comedic level.

The film's brightest spot is the screenplay. Written by Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon, & loosely based on the aformentioned true story of their relationship, the screenplay deals with love in a realistic way unlike many films in recent memory. It also deals with many other complex issues, like illness, religion, & culture. And it hits that perfect balance between comedy & drama.

This is definitely one of the best films of the year so far. It has an absolutely astonishing true story behind it that sucks you in & doesn't let you go.

The Big Sick was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 120 minutes, & it is rated R for language including some sexual references.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero since childhood, & even through the years where I wasn't big on superheroes. His powers & his identity are what drew me to him.

The Spider-Man film series with Tobey Maguire was excellent, & I loved all 3 films, even Spider-Man 3, which a lot of people haven't liked for its different tone than its predecessors.

The Spider-Man film series with Andrew Garfield was good, but both films could've been better. Both films were too long & their scripts had too many ideas to fit the already long runtime.

And now we have Spider-Man: Homecoming, an excellent beginning of a new Spider-Man film series, now with Tom Holland as Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man. As Holland's Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, the film focuses on Peter after becoming Spider-Man, & thus after being drafted into the Avengers by Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.). Although he is not ready yet to become an official Avenger, Stark assures Peter that they will contact him when they need him, & Stark has his former bodyguard, Harold "Happy" Hogan (played by Jon Favreau) keep an eye on Peter.

Peter has struggled to keep his private life & his superhero life separate, & he is struggling even more as he tries to keep it secret from everyone, especially his friends, Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) & Michelle (played by Zendaya), & his Aunt May (played by Marisa Tomei). All of these struggles lead to him to drop out of his extracurricular activities to focus on being Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes (played by Michael Keaton), a disgruntled salvager who was fired from cleaning up after the Battle of New York (as depicted in The Avengers), has become an arms trafficker known as Vulture, & he has been in possession of a huge amount of extremely powerful weapons. As Peter has been trying to test his limits of being Spider-Man, Vulture commits more crimes, & Peter must stop him, but must also learn the old adage that with great power comes great responsibility.

The cast is excellent. Tom Holland brings a fresh, new, youthful look to Peter Parker/Spider-Man, who has been de-aged to 15 in this film. Michael Keaton, whose career has had a renaissance as of late, is absolutely intimidating as the villain.

Jon Watts, who is most known for directing the 2015 indie drama Cop Car, directs this film with great precision, especially in the action sequences.

The screenplay by Jon Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers is excellent. The script has a light tone, a stark contrast from recent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, & a lot of dry wit, which works a lot in the film.

Michael Giacchino's score is a vast improvement over his last score for The Book of Henry. Giacchino shows that it was only a small demerit on his record with his excellent score here.

The sound editing & sound mixing are excellent, as the sounds make you feel like you're right in the midst of the action.

And the visual effects are excellent. The effects of the explosions & the superhero outfits worn are absolute spectacles.

This is arguably the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It takes a different approach from previous Spider-Man films, & has a different tone than other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but those aspects make this film work.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Monday, July 10, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 133 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language & brief suggestive comments.

Despicable Me 3

★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Illumination Entertainment's output of animated films have been mostly good, with some being great (Despicable Me & Despicable Me 2), & some being bad (The Secret Life of Pets). Despicable Me 3, while not being the best of Illumination Entertainment's film library, or even the Despicable Me trilogy, but it holds up enough on its own.

The film focuses on our famous villain-turned good guy, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), who is now an agent of the Anti-Villain League alongside his wife, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig). After failing to apprehend notorious former 1980's child star-turned villain, Balthazar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker), Gru & Lucy are fired by new Anti-Villain League director Valerie Da Vinci (voiced by Jenny Slate).

After telling their daughters, Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), & Agnes (voiced by Nev Scharrel), about their terminations, the household begins to fall in despair: Gru's assistant, Dr. Nefario, has frozen himself; all but a few of the Minions (voiced by Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin) leave to find better, more villainous jobs; & Agnes begins to sell some of her possessions to help.

But Gru's life is about to change when he is told that his twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Steve Carell), wants him & his family to come visit him in the very distant, extremely developing country of Freedonia. Gru, stunned by this revelation, asks his mother, Marlena (voiced by Julie Andrews) if it is true, to which she confirms. She & Gru & Dru's father divorced after their births, with Marlena taking Gru, & Gru's father taking Dru (to which she shows disgust about taking Gru).

When they arrive in Freedonia, they are stunned at the sight: Dru's house is extravagantly large, with an exorbitant amount of cars, helicopters, & boats, to which Dru attributes to the pig farming business. Dru tells Gru of their father's success as a villain, & tries to get Gru to be a villain again. Reluctant at first, Gru then sees this as an opportunity to get back the diamond that Balthazar Bratt stole, while deceiving Dru in the process.

The voice cast is pretty good, but the standout is Trey Parker. Having done voice work on the hilarious South Park for 20 years, this marks Parker's first foray into children's animation & voice work. With his over-the-top villainous performance, he makes what could've been a caricature into the best villain of the franchise.

The direction by Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda is overall fair, but somewhat poor. Without Chris Renaud co-directing the film, it seems to falter as a result, as Coffin & Renaud had co-directed the first 2 Despicable Me films to great success. Balda is a lesser director in comparison, as the other 2 films he co-directed (The Lorax & Minions) have been mediocre (The Lorax) or generally good (Minions).

The screenplay by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio is good, but could've used some tinkering. Although some jokes fall flat, most manage to hit.

While Despicable Me 3 isn't the best of the trilogy, Trey Parker's villainous performance is more than enough to save the film from mediocrity.

Despicable Me 3 was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Monday, July 3, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 90 minutes, & it is rated PG for action & rude humor.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Beguiled

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Betrayal is one of the most savage things in the world. And it hasn't been portrayed as beautifully as it has in The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola's masterpiece based on the 1966 novel The Beguiled (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan & the 1971 film The Beguiled.

Set in 1864, the film focuses on the people who live at the Miss Martha Farnsworth School in Virginia. The Civil War has been raging on for 3 years now, & the Confederate Army is less than a year from surrender. Everyone knows the war is ending soon, especially Miss Martha Farnsworth (played by Nicole Kidman), the headmistress of the school. Only the French teacher, Miss Edwina Morrow (played by Kirsten Dunst), & 5 students: the teenaged Alicia (played by Elle Fanning); & the preteenagers Amy (played by Oona Laurence); Jane (played by Angourie Rice); Emily (played by Emma Howard); & Marie (played by Addison Riecke), remain at the school, as the other teachers, students, & slaves have left.

One day, while searching for mushrooms, Amy finds a wounded Union soldier on the property. The soldier is Cpl. John McBurney (played by Colin Farrell), an Irish immigrant who had deserted the battlefield after his leg was wounded. Miss Farnsworth wonders whether or not to nurse him back to health, for he is a Union soldier in a Confederate state, but eventually decides to nurse him back to health, believing it is the Christian thing to do.

After McBurney is nursed back to health, the teachers & students debate whether or not to deliver him as a prisoner of war to the Confederate Army, but decide against it. McBurney develops a good companionship with the teachers & students, & all seems to be well.

But all is not well, as sexual tension has ravaged the school, especially Miss Morrow & Alicia, while the other students become attracted to him. And as things get intense, something occurs that can never be reversed.

The entire cast is superb, especially Nicole Kidman & Colin Farrell, who both deserve Oscar nominations for their performances.

Sofia Coppola's direction is absolutely spectacular, & it's no surprise that she won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director for this film, becoming only the second woman to win the award. She takes a different approach from the book & the original 1971 film by showing the film from the female perspective. Also, she sets an extremely tense mood that doesn't let up, except for the excellent moments of dark humor littered throughout the film, which only lightens the tense mood briefly & slightly.

Her screenplay is also excellent. Not only does she humanize all the characters, she also makes us love to hate them all, as they all have some dark ulterior motives directed towards everyone.

The production design is one of the shining elements of the film. Beautifully designed by Anne Ross in a Louisiana mansion famously used as the mansion in Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade, the decor of the era is made to perfection here.

The editing by Sarah Flack is excellent. She doesn't let anything linger on for too long or make a moment too short for us to fully experience it.

The cinematography is another shining element. Astoundingly shot by Philippe Le Sourd on 35mm film & in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the camera makes every shot look absolutely beautiful, while the claustrophobic aspect ratio heightens the already tense mood.

The costume design by Stacey Battat is also another shining element. Looking at the style of dresses worn at the time & the uniforms of the Union Army, Battat has made them to perfection.

The film score by French alternative rock band Phoenix is quiet & meditative, beautifully underscoring every moment of the film.

This is one of the best films of the year, & may just be Sofia Coppola's best film yet. This deserves every amount of praise it's receiving & even more. I hope to see this film mentioned frequently as we get closer to Oscar season, though I'm afraid it was released too early. We'll just have to wait & see.

The Beguiled was screened by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Thursday, June 29, 2017. It is currently in 10 theaters in the Detroit area, including the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI, The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI, the AMC Birchwood 10 in Fort Gratiot, MI & the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 94 minutes, & the film is rated R for some sexuality.

Baby Driver

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Baby Driver is everything Edgar Wright's career has been building up to & even more. It perfectly mixes action, comedy, drama, & romance into something that you don't see that much in cinema anymore: pure originality.

The film focuses on Baby (played by Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver for notorious criminal Doc (played by Kevin Spacey). When Baby was a kid, his parents (played by Sky Ferriera & Lance Palmer) died in a car crash that also gave Baby tinnitus, ringing in the ears. During the drives, he uses music to drown out the ringing. And he uses an absolutely vast variety of music: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; The Damned; Martha & the Vandellas; Golden Earring; etc. He lives with his deaf caretaker, Joseph (played by C.J. Jones). After pulling off a heist with husband-&-wife team Buddy (played by Jon Hamm) & Darling (played by Eiza González), along with Griff (played by Jon Bernthal), he only has one last heist to perform before he has paid his debts to Doc.

After meeting with Doc, he goes to a diner, where he meets an absolutely beautiful waitress named Debora (played by Lily James), whom he meets when he hears her singing "B-A-B-Y" by Carla Thomas. As they talk over songs involving her name, including "Debra" by Beck & "Debora" played by T. rex, a mutual attraction forms between them.

He finishes his last heist with Eddie No-Nose (played by Flea), J.D. (played by Lanny Joon), & Bats (played by Jamie Foxx), but not before Bats, an absolute madman, starts some trouble. Baby, now free from his debt to Doc, gets a job as a pizza delivery man & is now free to start a relationship with Debora. But Doc comes calling again, reuniting Baby with Buddy, Darling & Bats on a heist that could potentially get everyone in trouble.

The performances are absolutely incredible. Ansel Elgort, Lily James, & Eiza González give excellent breakout performances, while Kevin Spacey gives another amazing & commanding performance, & Jon Hamm & Jamie Foxx absolutely kill it here. I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear any of their names mentioned as Oscar contenders.

Edgar Wright's direction is arguably his best. After directing masterpiece after masterpiece (2004's Shaun of the Dead, 2007's Hot Fuzz, 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, & 2013's The World's End), his directorial vision has risen to new heights. He directs the many car chases in the film unlike many other directors have, & he does it amazingly. Also, he directed the beats of the music to the actions of the characters, & that is something that has to be seen to be believed because he also does that so excellently.

His screenplay is also brilliant. He has a knack for writing excellent characters, & that happens here, as he makes characters that could've easily been caricatures into full-blooded, 3-dimensional people.

Bill Pope's cinematography is a huge bright spot in the film, from the multiple long takes to the frequent elevator shots that perfectly frame everyone in it.

The editing from Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos really shines. Many films lately have received some bad marks for their frenetic editing, but Machliss & Amos make it work here. The breakneck style of editing reminds many of the styles of editing perfected in films by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, & Paul Thomas Anderson, among others.

But the film's biggest & greatest aspect is the sound design. The sound is perfectly edited & mixed, from the soundtrack, to the sounds of the car chases. The sound editors & sound mixers all deserve Oscars for their pitch-perfect work here.

The soundtrack is also excellent, & deserves every single amount of praise it has received. Featuring music from a wide range of genres & years, it perfectly underscores the scenes.

I honestly smiled throughout the entire film because I loved it so much. I was hyped for this film from the moment I saw the trailer, & the film surpassed my extremely high expectations. This is definitely the best film of the year so far, & is one of the best of the decade so far. It's one of those films that both critics (96% on Rotten Tomatoes, 86% on Metacritic) & audiences ($76 million so far, 8.3 on IMDb) both love. And if you haven't seen this masterpiece yet, see it (& see it on the biggest screen possible) & you won't be disappointed. It's everything you could possibly ever want in a film.

Baby Driver was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Tuesday, June 27, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 113 minutes, & it is rated R for violence & language throughout.